Horseback Riding Can Treat Cerebral Palsy?
By John Lehman
It may surprise you to learn that horseback riding is one of the many treatments available for children with cerebral palsy. The treatment is called hippotherapy and it has been used to treat disabled children and adults alike since the 1960’s. Research has shown that hippotherapy has a positive effect on both motor function and emotional well being in children with cerebral palsy.
Hippotherapy is usually conducted by a team consisting of a physical therapist, a horse handler and, in some cases, a speech/language therapist. The therapy often takes place at a horse farm, though there are also facilities specifically built with hippotherapy in mind. During the procedure, the physical therapist will be monitoring your child’s reactions in terms of balance and control, while the horse trainer will ensure that all safety precautions are taken. It is the horse handler who will also train both you and your child on how to properly ride the horse.
What are the Benefits?
The act of riding a horse forces the rider to match the rhythms of the horse’s movement. In this way, the horse’s natural movement helps the child with cerebral palsy match its rhythm and, therefore, reduce abnormal walking patterns. Studies indicate that the pelvic movement of a horse is similar to that of a human. With consistent riding, children with cerebral palsy could see improved motor function, muscle tone and balance.
Working in conjunction with a horse handler can also help your child improve his or her speech and language skills, as they hear and respond to advice and commands from the handler. Finally, the act of riding a horse can be empowering for patients, improving their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
Is it the Right Choice for My Child?
Of course, hippotherapy is not the best treatment for every child and it may not apply to your child’s specific needs. Your child’s doctor or physical therapist will have the best idea as to whether hippotherapy is the best option, either on its own or as a complimentary therapy. It is also important to note that health insurance typically does not cover this type of therapy.
There are always some risks involved with working with an animal, and hippotherapy is no different. Make sure that your child is outfitted with proper safety equipment such as a helmet or padding around their body. Your child should also carefully follow the instructions of the horse handler to ensure all safety precautions are taken. With adherence to the rules and safety guidelines, it is likely that hippotherapy will be a rewarding experience for both you and your child.
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